The A380 is one of the most iconic aircraft ever made. Since entering into service in 2007, the world’s largest and most spacious passenger jet has set a new benchmark for in-flight comfort. It has also raised the bar for environmental standards thanks to exceptional fuel efficiency and low noise levels. In fact, the latest Airbus programmes continue to benefit from the many innovations developed for the A380.
Now, this incredible feat of engineering is set to further enhance its legacy by playing a vital role in helping to achieve certification of 100% SAF by 2030.
This is because, when the A380 MSN1 departed from Toulouse’s Blagnac airport on 25 March, 2022, one of its four engines operated on 100% SAF. The A380 thus officially joins a group of select aircraft that have performed this type of in-flight test – one that includes the A350 and the A319neo. It also marks the first flight test campaign to use 100% SAF on all flight phases, from take-off and climb to cruise and landing.
“This is the first time that unblended SAF has been used on an A380 flight test platform,” explains Wolfgang Absmeier, Airbus Test Pilot. “The flight test met all of our requirements, which will enable us to carry out the next phase of the project consisting of specific engine manoeuvers.”
“This is another great example of the aviation industry coming together to work towards achieving certification of 100% SAF by 2030. Together, we’ve clearly demonstrated that an aircraft as large as the A380 can successfully operate on unblended SAF.”
François Pfindel, Airbus Head of A380 MAP
An industry-wide decarbonisation initiative
The flight test campaign is supported by a variety of partners. Rolls-Royce is conducting compatibility studies related to the engine adaptation for the Trent 900. Pratt & Whitney is providing support for the auxiliary power unit (APU). And TotalEnergies is supplying the unblended SAF.
Indeed, the 100% SAF is made from hydro-processed esters and fatty acids (HEFA), which generally consists of used cooking oil and other waste fats. What sets this SAF apart is that it is not mixed with any fossil fuels. Approximately 27 tonnes of SAF will be used for the flight test campaign and is produced in Normandy close to Le Havre, France.
“This is another great example of the aviation industry coming together to work towards achieving certification of 100% SAF by 2030,” explains François Pfindel, Airbus Head of A380 MAP. “Together, we’ve clearly demonstrated that an aircraft as large as the A380 can successfully operate on unblended SAF.”
An ambitious flight test campaign
Current research programmes – ECLIF3 and VOLCAN – will continue their test campaigns throughout 2022 and 2023 with the A350 and the A319neo. Because the A380 MSN1 has a very limited test window available, the test campaign’s focus is to gather as much data across the aircraft as possible over a two-week period.
While the first flight test phase focuses on outboard engine behaviour of 100% SAF and APU testing, the forthcoming second flight test phase will test this fuel type on the inboard engine and its impact on fuel gauging. On 29 March, the A380 will take off from Toulouse, head towards Nice and return to Toulouse in order to increase engine exposure to 100% SAF.
“Due to the A380’s engine and fuel system configuration, analysing engine and fuel system behaviours with 100% SAF needs to be managed over multiple flights,” François explains. “In doing so, we’ll generate a wealth of data that will help us to complement the research programmes currently underway.”
Following this 100% SAF flight test campaign spanning two weeks, the A380 MSN1 will be renovated to restore its aircraft testing capability and subsequently transformed into the ZEROe demonstrator to test hydrogen combustion technology in the years to come.